How Colleges Admit Students Based On Major

how colleges admit based on major

You might be asked to choose a major as you apply to different colleges and prepare to attend school. Depending on the college or university you apply to, your plans for a major can impact your admission chances.

As you think about where to study, consider the difference between colleges that offer schoolwide admission versus admission to a specific major and what that difference might mean for your acceptance chances.

Schoolwide Admission Or Admission By Major

For many colleges, your application will be evaluated for acceptance into the school as a whole, regardless of your chosen major. But for some schools with disproportionately popular majors, this can lead to issues down the road. If too many students decide to pursue the same field of study, some might have difficulty getting into the classes they need for an on-time graduation.

To deal with this possibility, certain schools require you to apply to specific majors. If the major is particularly coveted, admission will accordingly be more competitive.

For example, you might consider applying to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). For fall 2022, UIUC’s overall admission rate was 45%. However, only 7% of those who applied to study computer science were admitted to that program, versus 52% of applicants who were admitted to study education.

As you can see, if you apply to UIUC, you’ll have a far better chance of being admitted to the education program than to the computer science program.

But even schools that primarily admit by major might nonetheless offer a way to get in without declaring a major early on. UIUC has a General Studies program, for which 49% of applicants were accepted. So you can start there if you haven’t finalized what you’d like to focus on.

In some cases, colleges with schoolwide admission require students to ultimately transition from a general studies program and apply for specific majors later in their college careers. So you might get into a school and start attending, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll be admitted to your program of choice once it’s time to choose a major.

Why Do Some Schools Admit Students Based On Major?

Deciding to admit students based on their majors can be a matter of practicality for a school. Some of the reasons that a college might require prospective students to indicate a preferred major in their applications include:

  • Proper staffing: With major-based admission, schools can ensure they have enough faculty available to teach all their classes. Knowing in advance which fields of study will have the greatest demand allows a school to allocate staff accordingly and fully meet the needs of its students. 
  • Tailored academic advice: When you’re admitted to a specific major rather than to a school as a whole, your academic questions can be answered by specialized department staff instead of generalists. Major-based admission provides early access to knowledgeable career and academic support related to your field of study.
  • Access to underserved communities: In the case of UIUC, the admit-to-major approach has resulted in a higher percentage of Hispanic and Black students attending the school. Admitting based on major allows different departments to use different admission criteria; diverse admission criteria can allow for a more diverse student body than uniform admission criteria.
  • Program-specific criteria: When each individual department or major can determine its own admission criteria, the students it admits are more likely to possess the academic qualities needed to succeed in that specific field. For example, when reviewing an applicant’s college entrance exams, an engineering department might value high math and science scores but deprioritize scores in English.

Regardless of its reasons, it’s vital for you to understand if a college practices schoolwide or major-specific admission. Knowing which method a school uses in its college admissions process can help you make informed decisions about which schools to apply to and which to skip.

Deciding On A Major

As you consider which school to attend and what major to pick, it’s essential to realistically assess your chances of acceptance. Many schools provide data about their admission rates for specific majors. For example, Purdue University’s fall 2022 rate for computer science majors was 33% of applicants. If you want to attend school for computer science, you have a far better chance, statistically speaking, of getting into the program at Purdue as opposed to UIUC.

Another consideration is which majors are admitting more students. By looking at admission rates by major, you might get an idea of which career paths are in demand and which fields of study have a shortage of interest. A major’s high admit rate may indicate a lack of interest from your peers, which might make for a less competitive job market later.

Related: The 10 Best College Majors

Applying To A Major

Once you decide on a major, you’ll have to apply to the appropriate school. Many colleges and universities divide their administration and programs into schools on campus, such as the School of Education or the School of Engineering. There might be various majors and programs inside these different schools. Depending on the college and how it manages its admissions, you might need to apply to the college and simply designate a major or apply directly to the program that offers the major.

Some colleges have a standard portion of their applications that everyone fills out, followed by a more specialized portion based on your major. Other colleges may direct you straight to the relevant program and have you start your application there.

As you move forward, research a college’s specific process to make sure you’re on track, and double-check that the college offers the program you’re interested in. Get a list of application requirements and tailor your essay to focus on why you’re interested in and qualified for that specific field of study. You can also boost your admission chances by engaging in the right extracurricular activities that specifically relate to your desired major.

Bottom Line

Some colleges will admit you based on the major you choose. But if you select a major with a lot of applicants, it might be harder to get accepted to that program. Find out if the colleges you’re looking at admit students based on their chosen majors or if they have schoolwide applications. Either way, get the statistics on admission rates in your major so you have an idea of how competitive both the major and the industry as a whole might be.

If you have your heart set on a program with a particularly low admission rate, working with a college admissions consultant might be a worthwhile investment to give you a competitive edge over fellow applicants.

Editor: Ashley Barnett

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